By Julien Pretot
AIX EN PROVENCE, France (Reuters) – Alberto Contador, who hopes to be remembered as an “anti-conformist”, believes he can still win the Tour de France staying true to his swashbuckling style.
Speaking to Reuters after the fifth stage of Paris-Nice, the twice Tour champion said he will always be ready to risk everything in order to win.
“It’s important for me to race for victory, regardless of the race,” the Spaniard said on Thursday night after dinner in his team hotel in southern France.
Style, however, matters to Contador, who has built a reputation as a flamboyant rider who would rather be seen as a beautiful loser than an ugly winner.
“I am more satisfied with myself after a ride like Paris-Nice last year (when he attacked early on looking to unsettle eventual winner Geraint Thomas) than after a straightforward win that means nothing,” he said.
“I hope that I will be remembered as an anti-conformist.”
Contador, one of only six riders with titles in all three grand tours – France, Italy and Spain – is regarded as one of the most aggressive riders in history, having overturned a desperate situation in the 2012 Vuelta or in the 2015 Giro.
“To me, the most important thing is to fight on my bike regardless of the race, it’s the only way I can enjoy being a bike rider,” he said.
Contador is seventh overall in Paris-Nice, 1:34 off the pace but still with a chance of victory ahead of Saturday’s decisive mountain stage.
While many riders, including three-times Tour champion Chris Froome, often use second-tier races just to fine-tune their preparations, Contador admits he struggles to stay quiet when he sees opportunities to win.
“Since last November, I have been trying to visualize going to the (Tour warm-up race) Dauphine only to prepare for the Tour, not to go full gas,” he said.
“It’s always hard for me to go to a race and refrain from attacking.”
Contador, 34, will be looking to save his energy for the Tour, a race he has not managed to win since 2009, fuelling speculation that his best days are behind him.
“I’ve had bad luck with crashes in 2014 and 2016, and in 2015, riding and winning the Giro in 2015 took too much strength out of me. So that’s why I’m still motivated to win the Tour and believe I can do it – I have not been able to show my best in the last three years,” he said.
Contador can also draw motivation from the route of the Tour, which seems tailor-made for him. “It’s a course that I like, with short stages and several successive climbs. It gives opportunities to aggressive riders,” he said.
It will, however, be difficult to shake up Team Sky, whose often conservative way of riding has always made it hard for their rivals to break free.
Contador could try to blow up the race with the complicity of several other riders such as France’s Romain Bardet, second overall last year, but alliances are not easy to forge.
“It is always difficult to set up alliances because everyone has their own interest at heart, but depending on the circumstances, it still is a possibility,” he said.
Contador this year will rely on a strong Trek Segafredo team, which he joined during the close season after the Tinkoff outfit folded.
“It was quite easy to blend in as we’re about a dozen riders who are new to the team,” he said.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alison Williams)